Forging Your Our Purpose(s)

There was a piece in Harvard Business Review that made me realize we need to place “finding one’s purpose in life” in the same category as┬áconcepts about finding true love and instant success being experienced by special geniuses. It makes for great movie plots, but the reality is that all these things are nearly always the result of unacknowledged hard work and dedication.

The title of John Coleman’s piece, “You Don’t Find Your Purpose — You Build It” sums it up as all good titles do.

It isn’t just movies, but inspirational books/speakers and societal expectations like declaring your college major at 18 years old which reinforce this idea that we need to have a purpose to drive us through life.

In the article, Coleman expounds on the following misconceptions we have about life’s purpose.

Misconception #1: Purpose is only a thing you find.
Misconception #2: Purpose is a single thing.
Misconception #3: Purpose is stable over time.

The article is short so I will let you read the details on each if you would like to know more.

One brief passage relates back to what I have been writing about recently in regard to the idea that creativity is a personal choice and shaped by society:

In achieving professional purpose, most of us have to focus as much on making our work meaningful as in taking meaning from it. Put differently, purpose is a thing you build, not a thing you find. Almost any work can possess remarkable purpose.

Just as the individual decides whether something is a creative exercise and societal pressure often shapes that, so too can an individual determine whether what they are doing has purpose and societal pressure likewise can shape that.

I probably don’t have to point out that while these are similar dynamics, they aren’t necessarily closely related. There are plenty of creative pursuits that individuals and society don’t find to be worthwhile and plenty of things deemed to be worthy purposes that are not considered to be particularly creative.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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